Tail of missing plane spotted: Afghan officials

The plane was flying from Kunduz to Kabul when it was disappeared on Monday.

Updated: May 20, 2010, 14:12 PM IST

Kabul: Search craft have spotted the tail of a commercial airliner that disappeared on Monday while flying over the Hindu Kush mountains, Afghan officials said on Thursday.

The plane was flying from the northern city of Kunduz to Kabul with 44 people on board, including three British citizens and an American. Air traffic controllers lost track of the Antonov-24, operated by Pamir Airways, when it was about 55 miles (85 kilometres) north of Kabul.

Poor weather and the rugged mountain terrain hampered search efforts in recent days but search aircraft finally located the tail section on Thursday morning in mountains about 24 miles (38 kilometres) north of Kabul, acting Aviation Minister Mohammadullah Batash said. They were able to identify the blue Pamir Airways logo on the tail, he said.

An aviation investigator with the Afghan government, Ghulam Maroof, confirmed the finding, saying he had seen photos of the tail. He said the area where the tail was found is about 14,000 feet (4,270 meters) above sea level and very difficult to reach. Helicopters were being dispatched to find a landing spot, Maroof said.

Each day since the crash had brought false rumours that the plane was found. However, both Batash and Maroof said the pictures served as hard evidence of the plane.

A NATO spokesman, Master Sgt Jeff Loftin, said the alliance could not confirm if the Pamir plane had been found.

Kabul-based Pamir Airways, whose name honours the Pamir mountain range of Central Asia, started operations in 1995. It has daily flights to major Afghan cities and flies to Dubai and Saudi Arabia for the hajj pilgrimage.

Pamir`s chief executive officer, Amanullah Hamid, said the plane was last inspected about three months ago in Bulgaria. The An-24 is a medium-range twin-turboprop civil aircraft built in the former Soviet Union from 1950 to 1978. Although production there ceased more than three decades ago, a modernised version is still made in China.

It is widely used by airlines in the developing world due to its rugged design, ease of maintenance and low operating costs. A total of 143 have so far been lost in accidents, according to the Aviation Safety Network`s statistics.

Bureau Report